Parliamentary elections in Estonia took place on Sunday, 5 March to elect a new Riigikogu. Current Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, of the liberal Estonian Reform Party won its most seats ever, putting her on track to lead the next government. This Just the Facts will look at Estonia’s parliamentary system, the main issues in the campaign, and the election results.
Estonia’s Parliamentary System
The Riigikogu (from Estonian riigi-, of the state, and kogu, assembly) is a unicameral Parliament, with 101 members elected via proportional representation for four-year terms. The Riigikogu is responsible for enacting legislation, approving the national budget and exercising oversight over the executive branch of government.
Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million people, is split into 12 electoral districts based on population distribution, where between five and 13 MPs are elected in each. Estonia is one of the few countries in the world that permits voting online ahead of polling day. This has increased from 2% of the turnout in the October 2005 local elections, to 47% in the May 2019 European Parliament elections.
The President of Estonia is elected by the Riigikogu, who must win a two-thirds majority of MPs. President Alar Karis was elected in the second round of voting in October 2021, with 72 of 101 votes (71.3%).
Since July 2022, the current coalition government has consisted of the liberal Estonian Reform Party (34 seats), centre-right Isamaa (12 seats), and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (10 seats). Kaja Kallas of the Estonian Reform Party became Prime Minister in January 2021.
2023 Election Campaign
National security, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, social-economic issues and the rising cost of living dominated the election campaign, which began in November last year. The first TV election debate saw security and defence feature heavily as the country shares a border of nearly 300kms with Russia.
Most parties agree with the current government’s policies on providing Ukraine with more military aid, strengthening NATO’s military presence in the region and increased sanctions on Russia. The exception has been the right-wing Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, a key opposition party, which has expressed concerns on the number of Ukrainian refugees that Estonia is accepting, and has argued that sending weapons to Ukraine is undermining the country’s national defence.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Estonia has accepted more than 67,600 Ukrainian refugees.
Kaja Kallas, the first woman to be Prime Minister of Estonia, has earned a newfound international standing due to her strong support for Ukraine and her outspoken views on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Her mother was deported to Siberia in 1949 along with over 20,000 other Estonians after the country was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940.
Her great-grandfather was Eduard Alver, one of the founders of Estonian independence in February 1918, while her father Siim Kallas was previously Prime Minister of Estonia (2002 – 2003) and a European Commissioner (2004 – 2014).
In January 2023, Estonia’s latest military aid package to Ukraine consisted of howitzers, ammunition, artillery support equipment and grenade launchers. This brought Estonia’s total military assistance to Ukraine to €370 million, just over 1% of its GDP.
However, like elsewhere in the EU, inflation and high energy prices are key issues for voters. According to Eurostat, inflation in Estonia stood at 18.6% in February 2023, higher than rates in Ireland (7.5%) and the 20-member Eurozone (8.7%).
Results of the 2023 Estonian General Election
|Party||European Parliament Group||Irish Parties in these European Parliament Groups||2019 Seats||2023 Seats||Change|
|Estonian Reform Party||Renew Group||Fianna Fáil||34||37||+3|
|Conservative People’s Party of Estonia||Identity and Democracy Group||None||19||17||-2|
|Estonian Centre Party||Renew Group||Fianna Fáil||26||16||-10|
|Estonia 200||Renew Group||Fianna Fáil||0||14||+14|
|Social Democratic Party||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats||Labour Party||10||9||-1|
|Isamaa||European People’s Party||Fine Gael||12||8||-4|
At 63.5%, turnout for the election was slightly down, due to a new turnout methodology that includes all Estonians living abroad. Electronic voting reached a new high in this general election, accounting for 51.1% of all votes cast. Nine political parties and 11 independent candidates campaigned in the election.
The election was viewed as pitting “one of Europe’s most staunchly pro-Kyiv governments against a far-right party seeking to capitalise on anger at rising living costs and which would stop admitting new Ukrainian refugees”.
In the end, the Estonian Reform Party of Kaja Kallas won 37 seats in the Riigikogu, its highest ever, while the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia became the second largest party with 17 seats, a decline of two.
The centre-left Estonia Centre Party suffered heavily, losing ten seats, dropping to 16. It is traditionally the party which many of Estonia’s ethnic-Russians support. They accounted for 23.7% of Estonia’s population in 2022. According to reports, many ethnic-Russians did not vote in this year’s general election.
Estonia 200, a liberal centre party founded in November 2018, entered the Riigikogu as the fourth largest party with 14 seats. While the other government coalition partners of the Social Democratic Party and Isamaa lost seats.
President Alar Karis urged parties to quickly agree a new coalition: “The current situation does not favour a long period of uncertainty between the outgoing government packing its bags and the incoming coalition starting up.” Kaja Kallas has said her party would talk to all parties but has ruled out a coalition with the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia.
Looking Ahead in 2023
|Parliamentary elections in EU Member States in 2023|
|Sunday, 5 March – Estonia|
|Sunday, 2 April – Bulgaria and Finland|
|By July – Greece|
|Sunday 30, September – Slovakia|
|Sunday 8, October – Luxembourg|
|October or November – Poland|
|No later than Sunday, 10 December – Spain. Assumes the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU in July 2023 from Sweden.|